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Totnes Castle

Visited  August 2011

Location Totnes, Devon
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby   Totnes- approx 1/2 mile
Parking Yes
Facilities Shop, Picnic Benches



Totnes Castle, as its name suggests, stands high above the town of Totnes in Devon. It was started over 900 years ago by Juhel de Totnes, one of the Norman commanders who would have come over with William the Conqueror. The impressive motte on which the present day castle stands, is the original Norman earthwork. It would have been topped by a wooden castle in the time of Juhel and later replaced in stone.






The remains we have today are of the thirteenth and fourteenth century, but they were built in line with the original structure. As the castle then saw very little in the way of military action the remains today are very well preserved as a brilliant example of a classic motte & bailey castle. If you are looking to explain to children what an early Norman castle was like, then Totnes is certainly a good starting point.


Although once the high motte would have deterred invaders, these days a set of steps makes the ascent easier. Once at the top there is not too much to see, there is the circular shell keep with access to the parapet which affords some magnificent views of Totnes and the surrounding area. On the ground there are the stone foundations of the Norman tower which once stood inside the keep, but nothing remains today . Once the battlements have been explored, there is not really much else to see at this level.






Back down in the castle bailey there are some picnic benches, and the stone wall enclosing it is mostly intact, although parts of it are recent rebuilds. It is very peaceful here - a grassy area with tall trees growing, but this would have been the main area of activity in the days of Juhel. There are several notice boards around with drawings of reconstructions to illustrate this. Make sure you read them all , and take a walk all the way around the outside wall of the bailey, taking note of the defensive ditches.



This will add an extra fifteen or so minutes to your visit, and it is worth doing as this is a small site, yet there is an entrance fee so you want to see as much as possible to get the most out of your money. This brings me to my main complaint about this castle. The entrance price. The day we visited it was £3.40 for adults and £2.00 for children. For a twenty or so minute visit this is massively expensive, especially for a family of four or more. When I think of other small sites as Nunney Castle or St Briavel's Castle which  English Heritage also own but do not charge for, I wonder how they can justify charging so much for what is such a small castle. Maybe because a town like Totnes always has tourists and so they can get away with it.


This is where English Heritage membership comes into play. If you are a member it is free, so I would advise a visit if you are in the area as it is a perfectly formed motte & bailey, unchanged and unadulterated by the passage of time and certainly worth seeing. However, the price  prevents me from recommending it to non-members as I feel it is not value for money . For non-members a decent view of the exterior can be had from the surrounding streets for free. We can but hope that  English Heritage will review the price in the future, as it certainly was putting visitors off the day we were there, which is a shame.


A final word on Totnes. It was originally a Saxon town and the old part of town is still largely unchanged in this lay out. Juhel actually swept aside Saxon homes to make way for his castle and used Saxon slave labour to build his motte. A walk up the High Street and through the old town gate is recommended to get a feel of the history. There is a very good museum just off the High Street too.



More info:  English Heritage Totnes Castle

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